‘Raw’ honey

Is this raw honey?

How many times have your been asked that?

Not for sale ...

Not for sale …

Define ‘raw’

Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines ‘raw’ as meaning: 1. said of meat, vegetables, etc: not cooked. 2. not processed, purified or refined. … and then wanders off into definitions of ‘raw’ silk, weather and wounds, though no mention of raw honey.  Clearly honey is both a foodstuff and ‘not cooked’, though if it’s heated excessively it has to be sold as ‘Bakers honey’.

However, is it processed, purified or refined? I operate my extractor with the gate open. I run the honey through a coarse filter (~2 mm) directly into 30 lb. buckets. This removes the worst of the lumps that really shouldn’t be in honey … big pellets of pollen, scraps of brace comb and bits of bees. I really don’t want any of these on my toast in the mornings, and I don’t want them floating on the – inevitable – scum when the jar is opened as I would really like to attract repeat customers. I store the 30 lb. buckets until I’m ready to jar the honey, re-filtering it through a fine mesh and removing the scum before bottling. The end product looks great and has a good shelf life.

Since ‘purified’ means to remove contaminants I suspect the pedantic would consider the honey is no longer raw.

Raw honey on labels

Honey labelled for sale must carry one of the following reserved words that describe the product … Honey, Blossom Honey, Nectar Honey, Honeydew Honey, Comb Honey, Chunk Honey, Cut Comb in Honey, Drained Honey, Extracted Honey, Pressed Honey, Filtered Honey and Baker’s Honey. If the predominant nectar source is known the reserved word can be prefixed with the source e.g. heather honey.

It’s notable that raw, organic, unfiltered or unheated aren’t reserved words and yet are regularly found on honey labels, sometimes immediately preceding the word ‘honey’.

The taste test

The jar at the top of the page is coarse filtered ‘raw’ honey run straight from the extractor into the bottle. It’s slightly cloudy and has bubbles and a sort of swirly, almost birefringent, appearance when you hold it against the light. It will almost certainly crystallise unevenly and unpredictably. It might have an antenna lurking in its murky depths.

It tastes absolutely delicious.

But then so is honey that’s been allowed to settle in the buckets, gently warmed in a honey warming cabinet, filtered through a fine mesh filter, allowed to settle again, skimmed (to remove the bubbles that rise to the surface) and then carefully bottled in pre-warmed jars. This is still ‘raw’ – as in uncooked – honey but it’s also certainly a more refined product. It’s beautifully clear, it looks great on the shop shelves or the breakfast table, it sells well and it attracts a premium price. Like all pure honey that hasn’t been heated to very high temperatures or filtered excessively it will eventually crystallise, but it has a long shelf life and will remain attractive for the duration.

No bee legs or antennae ...

No bee legs or antennae …

It might be interesting to conduct a blind taste test of a jar of ‘raw’ honey with one refined just enough – as described above – to look really good and sell well. It might also be interesting to auction an unlabelled jar of each and see which is more attractive to the customer … or see whether customers who find bee legs in the jar make repeat orders 😉

Going by the number of visitors who come to this site having searched for a ‘honey warming cabinet‘ I suspect that the ‘raw’ honey sold by most beekeepers is at least partially refined. As an aside that last link also takes you to details of the cabinet sold by Abelo’s, which looks lovely (a lot more aesthetically pleasing than my DIY effort), but costs an eye-watering £599 and doesn’t enable you to pre-warm supers before extraction. A missed opportunity.


6 thoughts on “‘Raw’ honey

  1. Calum

    Just in the process of implementing a new processing regime. Got a rapido honey tool – so now to reliquify the honey gets 4hours @30•c before I “rapido” it to a creamy honey that pours to glass and does not resolidify. Much less heating than complete reliquifying and it does not set. Wins all round. I use a water bath to warm 12,5kg buckets

    1. David Post author

      Sounds a good system Calum,
      A water bath is a much more effective system for warming honey than my warming cabinet, though I’m not sure which uses more energy – presumably it takes some time for the water bath to reach operating temperature? The honey crop this summer was so poor I could have probably warmed it all in a small sink 🙁

  2. calum

    yes same here, very very poor crop.
    The water bath is pretty efficient, I think, especially if you get an insulating “coat” for it.
    – I use something like this, never use enamel – rusting bucket handels will stain it.
    It is also excellent for preparing mulled mead or wine in the winter, a bath for heating wax for candle making, or just sterilising 40 honey glasses quite quickly (though the dishwasher is probably more efficient)

  3. Pingback: Honey and hay fever - The Apiarist

    1. David Post author

      No it isn’t. To carry the word ‘organic’ is has to originate from location(s) where the bees have, almost exclusively, foraged on plants that have been organically grown. In addition, certification by a group like The Soil Association (or their equivalent in other countries) is needed.

      In England you’d need to get up to speed on the Organic Products Regulations 2009 (I think).

      Good luck with that.

      The Apiarist is happy to carry paid adverts – please contact our marketing department 😉

Comments are closed.